Two People Try to Explain the Unexplainable

OK, OK, so my husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on December 30. Forty years!

When we tell people that, they usually look at us like we’re really old. That’s bad enough. But then the next thing they want is for us to say something profound and wise about a long marriage.

If there’s anything that renders me completely mute, it’s the expectation I will say something profound or — equally threatening — witty. When that happens, I just want to die or disappear, and end up looking like a neurotic hamster in search of her wheel and cage.

But marriage is a partnership — right? — so there’s no need for me to do this all by myself. I can shift the burden to both my husband and me. If you’ve read this blog over time, you kind of know him; if not, see earlier, completely objective reports here and here.

People sometimes ask me whether he minds my writing about him so much. That’s kind of a weird question, in my opinion. If he didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be doing it, based on this whole notion that marriage is a partnership and you shouldn’t be pissing off the other person unnecessarily; instead you should save yourself for the times when you need to necessarily piss him off.

Besides, my husband loves attention, especially of the flattering sort, which is pretty much what I deliver on a regular basis. Sometimes, though, he whines a little that I am not completely objective and that he needs to present his side of the story.

So! It’s our anniversary and today we’re both going to talk. It can’t hurt once every 40 years, can it? Let me turn over the stage so we can have a dialogue.


Oh god, she wants me to talk about my feelings.  When Ruth said that it would be fun to do a blog together about our 40 years of marriage, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to talk about my beef jerky recipe.  It’s quite simple.  Get a lean cut of beef, cut it into strips, put some salt on it, and then lay it out on an oven grill ideally over the heating duct in the living room for a couple of days.  Brush away the dust, and Voila! — the perfect snack.

You probably think that this recipe came from Ruth’s Chickasaw ancestors.  In fact, I kind of invented it on my own early in our marriage.  Before children, Ruth and I shared a laissez faire approach to life.  One of our first Christmases together, we cooked a nice steak with some friends.  We lived in Virginia and it was bitterly cold outside (note to future jerky chefs: cold outside temperature = low relative humidity inside = perfect jerky-making conditions).  The steak was rare and cut thin.  We had too much food and wine and didn’t eat most of the steak.  After the guests left, we went straight to bed figuring that we’d clean up Christmas morning.  But why clean up on Christmas?  On the morning of the 26th, I was assigned the task of cleaning up and discovered that Santa must have visited.  The leftover steak strips had transformed into beautiful pieces of jerky.  What joy.  What happiness.  What a feeling of discovery.  (And you thought I couldn’t talk about my feelings.)

Why am I telling you this?  Making jerky is a little like discovering the key to a happy marriage.  We both began our relationship with a vague sense of what marriage was and, two days later, woke up a bit unrecognizable but full of substance and a rich story.  Making jerky is not as easy as it might sound.  It requires the right meat, the appropriate relative humidity, and the perfect companion who can tolerate and even celebrate your eccentricities.

Moving beyond the jerky metaphor, I think that two of the secrets to a long and happy marriage are truly enjoying one another and good luck.  Oh, and the right amount of salt.


Celebrating 40 years of marriage and 31 years of beef jerky


I’m reminded of the time my husband and I were in a car together and I said I wanted to talk about our relationship. Then I reached over and locked all the car doors. You should have seen the panicked look on his face. The point is, I probably should have done the same thing today. If I had, I’d be misting up over some flowery emotional tribute he’d written instead of thinking, Beef jerky? Are you fucking kidding me?

“Guess what your father just compared our marriage to,” I asked our daughter when she dropped by with her boyfriend. She shook her head. “Beef jerky,” I said.

“You’re kidding,” she said, horrified. “Beef jerky?”

“I like beef jerky,” my husband said placidly.

Our daughter’s boyfriend didn’t say anything. He was too busy snacking on the damned beef jerky.

“I am wondering about the symbolism of this,” I announced. “Beef jerky is old and dried out and wrinkled.”

“Beef jerky tastes great,” my husband said. “It has a story to it. Like a good, long marriage.”

There are a couple of morals to this story. Yeah, I should have applied the locked car-door pressure, but now it’s too late. But, you know what? I am a sucker for a guy who can still amuse me, even after four decades.

Oh, and did I mention he got me a ring?


The most surprising part of celebrating a 40th wedding anniversary is to realize that you have been married for 40 years.  It didn’t really happen the way I had planned.  Growing up, I assumed that I would go to college and then law school.  And then when I was around 30 or so I would marry someone.  It seemed to work OK for my father and no other options called out to me.

The fly in the ointment of my plans arrived in the summer after high school when I was set up on a blind double date with a girl who I hardly knew but assumed I didn’t particularly like.  The date involved a trip to the Sand Hills State Park.  Imagine an endless sun-drenched beach where the closest body of water was about 300 miles away.  Around sundown, we started talking. The next thing I remember it was midnight and we were in a diner, still talking and laughing and flirting.  Talking with her was like dancing in clouds.  It was so effortless, freeing, and pure joy.

We told ourselves it was just a summer fling before we both left town to go to different colleges.  Our separate university lives started but we soon started writing occasionally.  Within weeks, the dance took up where we left off in the summer.

I never went to law school and didn’t get married when I was 30.  Instead, my plans were sidetracked by this lovely sensuous verbal dancer.  As the years passed, we had two wonderful children and amassed a remarkable group of friends.  We’ve enjoyed rich and meaningful lives and had more than our share of lucky breaks.

Through all of this, we are still dancing as effortlessly today as on the sand dunes a lifetime ago.


The Sand Hills to beef jerky, youth to late middle age, hippiedom to semi-respectability — you see what I mean? No wonder I’m struck dumb by the prospect of saying something profound about a long marriage.

So, our kids hosted a dinner party and everybody said really nice things about us and noted that 40 years was a pretty long haul. From time to time, I’d look across the table at my husband and wink or smile, thinking about our imperfections, our occasional knock-down, drag-outs, our children, our friends, our travels, our love, our teeth-baring moments, all the fun we’ve had, the sheer richness of our lives together.

You know what? I’d do it all over again in a nano.

“After all of this celebration and those compliments,” I told my husband later, “we’d better not fuck it up now.”

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about Celebrating a Truly Perfect Marriage (Not Ours, Obviously)

21 comments… add one
  • Maybe he should sell his beef jerky. Then he might feel he’s really gotten his penny’s worth out of your marriage. Seriously though – happy anniversary. It sounds like you had a nice celebration.

  • Loved this: “Talking with her was like dancing in clouds.” I’m envious of your 40 years. I have been married for almost as long, but to two different men.

  • OMG, I was laughing all the way through this post. So witty and wonderful, it’s no wonder you’ve made it 40 years, congratulations! And for what it’s worth, I would hate to think what my husband would compare a long marriage to (we’ve been married 26)!

  • Oh, I love this, Ruth. It’s clear why your marriage works so well. Congratulations on 40 years; it truly is a milestone.

  • That is so sweet. Thank you for letting Mr. P. talk. He sounds like a real gem. Congratulations of 40 years. I’ve made it 30, but not all to the same husband.

  • Tina Link

    Congratulations! You two are amazing and are obviously very much in happy love!

  • Marsha Canright Link

    Last week I met a couple, the Grillos, who have been married 58 years. When she was 12, his parents came to her parents, and later her mother proposed to her by saying “Do you think Joe is nice?” Their families were from the same village in Sicily. So when she was 16, they got married. The families helped them buy a shrimp boat which was the source of their livelihood for the next 50 years. But what made me smile was Mrs. Grillo who told me “I’d marry him again.” To me, your story is the same. Two kindred spirits who had the luck to run into each other and the sense to hold on. Congrats Ruth: 40 years is worth a celebration.

  • Chris Link

    Nice, 40 years is a feat these days.

    So…what kind of ring?

  • beautifully woven together! fun read. and Congratulations on a wonderful 40 years!

  • Marie Link

    Love this and how awesome all the way around!

  • I love this! And to go from being compared to beef jerky to being called a “lovely sensuous verbal dancer.” Now that’s a compliment. Congratulations on 40 years.

  • Jamie just proved that men can talk about their feelings. This line proves it: “Talking with her was like dancing in clouds. ” Congrats to you both. Happy beef jerky day! I loved the back and forth on this post. Please do it more often!

  • Cindy A Link

    Loved this! Dr P should give his perspective whenever you talk about him. That would be pretty much all the time, but it would be fabulous! He’s right- the best things in life aren’t in the original plan.

  • Happy anniversary. May you continue to amuse each other for years on end.

  • Bernadette Link

    Wow, Ruth, look out. This guy can write almost as well as you can. Points made by you both are well taken. As someone who has been married over 40 years, what worked for you has also worked for us: We enjoy talking to each other and always have. I also had a very good father. That taught me how to recognize a good guy.

  • Forty years! To the same person! Kudos to you both and many, many more. (and don’t go screwing it all up!)

  • Cindy D. Link

    I’m sure there are days when you feel that it was only yesterday when the kids were babies and Jamie was climbing the tenure mountain. Isn’t it amazing how fast a life well lived goes by? Much love to you both and all who benefit from the ripples out of your love for each other.

  • We just crossed the 32-year mark. And we love beef jerky. Especially if it’s been soaked in cherry juice.

  • My favorite line: he described you as a “lovely sensuous verbal dancer.” And I think the beef jerky comparison is high praise.

  • Very interesting, I am from Nepal where we have concept that once one is married, married for ever (believed for 7 lives).each sentences are juicy and humor filled but serious too

  • I’m not sure of your policy about links to other blogs, but I recently also had an occasion to think about my 30+ year marriage. (Yes, people, second time was definitely the charm.) We’ve never made beef jerky (not that that isn’t a good idea considering that we currently have forced air heat), but we did have a sweet old married persons’ moment triggered by groceries and an elevator.

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